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The symbolism of Vinayaka

A detailed exposition of the sacred symbols associated with Vinayaka is given by Swami Subramuniya in his modern classic “Loving Ganesha” (Himaayan Academy Press).

 

Vinayaka has 108 names including, Ganesha and Ganapati (“Lord of the Ganas or hosts” in Tamil) and Pillaiyar (“Sacred Child” in Tamil).

There are 32 forms of Ganapati in various colours and postures, with differing numbers of arms, holding different symbols. Shown below, for example is ‘Bhakti Ganapati” where bhakti means devotion.

Of the many symbols associated with Vinayaga here are a few mentioned in the Vinayagar Agaval:

The Elephant Head

The elephant is also the symbol of the stage when existence begins: the “unmanifest”. Whereas in contrast the human part of Vinayaga is what can be physically seen.

The Trunk

Similarly the trunk is often curved in the shape of the symbol Aum, which is the vibration that existed before the manifest universe. Aum precedes both human thought and speech.

The Stomach

Vinayaga’s stomach contains the material universe as we know it. It represents abundance.

The Tusk

The single tusk on the face stands for single pointed concentration and focus considered an essential quality of the mind.

The broken tusk in his hand is a writing implement, in keeping with Vinayaga’s role as the patron of literature and the great scribe. Vinayaga, as the scribe, is said to have written down the Mahabharata epic for the blind poet Vyasa.

The Mouse

The mouse represents the all pervasive, all knowing nature of Ganesha: it can carry him into every corner of the mind. The other Gods have mounts which symbolise speed. Ganesha is slow but diligent.

Three Eyes

Vinayaka’s three eyes include the two physical eyes that we see with, but also the third spiritual eye located in Hindu mythology on the forehead of all beings, human and otherwise. With the third eye one sees the reality behind the seeming.

The Noose

Swami Subramuniya says of the noose “Loving Ganesa's provident mind, like the noose, draws close those He loves most dearly and reaches out to encircle and save strayed ones in extraordinary ways.”

The Goad

Swami Subramuniya says of the Goad, “Loving Ganesha's deliberate mind prods dullards on in their birth karmas whenever they tarry. with His ankusha He goads forward all souls that are moving too slowly.”

The Fruits

The fruits represent represent the earth’s abundance and fertility and also the sharing of these. Ganesha generally holds a whole variety of other sweet things, representing the sweetness of life: rice pudding, modhaka balls.